ref·​er·​ence | \ˈre-fərn(t)s, ˈre-f(ə-)rən(t)s\

Definition of reference 

(Entry 1 of 3)

1 : the act of referring or consulting

2 : a bearing on a matter : relation in reference to your recent letter

3 : something that refers: such as

a : allusion, mention

b : something (such as a sign or indication) that refers a reader or consulter to another source of information (such as a book or passage)

c : consultation of sources of information

4 : one referred to or consulted: such as

a : a person to whom inquiries as to character or ability can be made

b : a statement of the qualifications of a person seeking employment or appointment given by someone familiar with the person

c(1) : a source of information (such as a book or passage) to which a reader or consulter is referred

(2) : a work (such as a dictionary or encyclopedia) containing useful facts or information

d : denotation, meaning



Definition of reference (Entry 2 of 3)

: used or usable for reference especially : constituting a standard for measuring or constructing


referenced; referencing

Definition of reference (Entry 3 of 3)

transitive verb

1a : to supply with references

b : to cite in or as a reference

2 : to put in a form (such as a table) adapted to easy reference

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Synonyms for reference

Synonyms: Noun

authority, source

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Examples of reference in a Sentence


references to an earlier event The numbers were calculated by reference to the most recent census. Reference to a map will make the position clear. She listed her former teacher as a reference when she applied for the job. Her former teacher gave her a reference when she applied for the job. Her teacher gave her a letter of reference.


a list of reference materials


The book references many other authors who have written on this topic.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

That could have been a reference to Las Vegas, which made a late bid that didn’t have the support of the city or tourism officials. Steve Harrison And Jim Morrill, charlotteobserver, "Why did council Democrats wait to oppose RNC? An inside look at Charlotte’s bid.," 13 July 2018 Fans immediately wondered if the baby's name is a reference to Migos' last two albums, 2017's Culture and its successor Culture II, released earlier this year. Heran Mamo, Billboard, "Cardi B Has a Priceless Explanation For Naming Her Daughter 'Kulture'," 12 July 2018 This appears to be a reference to the late Father Lawrence O’Connell, a priest in the Pittsburgh Diocese who died 1986. Nathaniel Lash,, "Filings disclose new details on grand jury clergy abuse probe," 10 July 2018 The statement was a reference to the 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots killed in the 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire. Anne Ryman, azcentral, "Ex-NAU professor accused of stalking hotshot fire crew members takes plea deal," 10 July 2018 And tucked into the decision was a reference to promoting public health, a stance that was reiterated this week by a Russian delegate to a United Nations forum on patents, according to one attendee. Ed Silverman, STAT, "A Russian court grants a compulsory license for a best-selling Celgene drug," 10 July 2018 Will every episode of the show be a reference to a word on her body? Morgan Baila,, "Sharp Objects Premiere Recap: Home Is Where The Murder Is," 9 July 2018 That appeared to be a reference to Trump's national security adviser John Bolton, a prominent North Korea hawk who has been vilified by Pyongyang in the past. Matthew Lee, Fox News, "Pompeo shrugs off NKorea's 'gangster' rebuke, cites progress," 8 July 2018 Blaringly absent is any reference to the man others have endlessly lampooned. Dorian May, A-LIST, "Portrait of an Artist: George Condo," 5 July 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

One member of the Phillies’ youth movement that Callaway was referencing, Vince Velasquez, was acquired after the 2015 season in a package from the Houston Astros for reliever Ken Giles — who happened to get demoted to the minors Wednesday. Seth Berkman, New York Times, "Mets’ Jacob deGrom Throws a Gem, With His Future Unclear," 11 July 2018 The emcee was referencing the removal of the swimsuit competition, according to The Boston Globe. Ryan Gaydos, Fox News, "Massachusetts beauty queen steps down from pageant after #MeToo joke," 10 July 2018 The singer is referencing the specific demographic that her band’s music speaks to. Stephen Daw, Billboard, "Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles Talks Covering Patty Griffin's 'Tony' & Making Country Music LGBTQ-Inclusive," 5 July 2018 The memos Trump appears to reference are ones that Comey wrote memorializing his meetings and phone calls with the president – which have since become public. Josh Dawsey, Anchorage Daily News, "Trump assails Comey in tweetstorm, calls for ex-FBI director to be imprisoned," 15 Apr. 2018 The recent struggles by Catalan leaders for independence from Spain were referenced by some of the performers onstage at Clownia, as were the universal themes of immigration, freedom of expression and gender equality. Judy Cantor-navas, Billboard, "Clownia: Global Bands Come Together in Catalonia for a Summer Feel-Better Festival," 5 July 2018 At least two of the articles referenced by the government in their indictment of Mr. Wolfe don't appear to contain information that is classified. Byron Tau, WSJ, "Senate Ex-Staffer Pleads Not Guilty to Charge of Lying to FBI in Leaks Probe," 13 June 2018 Shutterstock The high-rise and condo boom isn’t slowing down; developer Great Gulf is working on a pair of towers for the Mirvish-Gehry project west of downtown that seem to reference the architect’s work on the New York by Gehry. Patrick Sisson, Curbed, "Toronto’s new wave of development looks for community, not just condos," 12 June 2018 Players critically referenced by the tweets could take Colangelo and Bottini to court Players targeted by Bottini’s tweeting could explore the possibility of bringing defamation and invasion of privacy lawsuits against her and her husband. Michael Mccann,, "Could Bryan Colangelo Still Face Legal Consequences After Parting Ways With 76ers?," 7 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'reference.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of reference


1579, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1856, in the meaning defined above


1876, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

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Statistics for reference

Last Updated

23 Oct 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for reference

The first known use of reference was in 1579

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More Definitions for reference



English Language Learners Definition of reference

 (Entry 1 of 3)

: the act of mentioning something in speech or in writing : the act of referring to something or someone

: the act of looking at or in something for information

: a person who can be asked for information about another person's character, abilities, etc.



English Language Learners Definition of reference (Entry 2 of 3)

: used to find information about something

: used to tell people where information can be found



English Language Learners Definition of reference (Entry 3 of 3)

: to mention (something or someone) in speech or in writing : to refer to (something or someone)


ref·​er·​ence | \ˈre-fə-rəns, ˈref-rəns\

Kids Definition of reference

1 : the act of looking at or in something for information Reference to a map will make our location clear.

2 : a relation to or concern with something I am writing in reference to your advertisement.

3 : the act or an instance of mentioning They made no references to my error.

4 : a work (as a dictionary) that contains useful information

5 : something that refers a reader to another source of information

6 : a person who can be asked for information about another person's character or ability

7 : a written statement about someone's character or ability


ref·​er·​ence | \ˈref-(ə-)rən(t)s \

Medical Definition of reference 

(Entry 1 of 2)

: of known potency and used as a standard in the biological assay of a sample of the same drug of unknown strength a dose of reference cod-liver oil


Medical Definition of reference (Entry 2 of 2)

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ref·​er·​ence | \ˈre-frəns, -fə-rəns \

Legal Definition of reference 

1 : an act of referring specifically : mention or citation of one document (as a statute) in another a municipality may adopt by reference all or a part of this title Alaska Statutes — see also incorporate

2 : a referral especially to a legislative committee or master also : an order referring a matter to a master the extent to which any party is more responsible than other parties for the reference to a master Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 53(g)

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Comments on reference

What made you want to look up reference? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


playful or foolish behavior

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